Black Girls Don’t Read Sylvia Plath

For those that think that Sylvia Plath is only for upper crust white teenage girls in suburban New England. Black people read Plath, and men too.

Myself as a male (of sorts) often, I’ve had to defend my literary tastes as i.e. Plath or Sexton or the more modern Heti or Strayed. I mean I’m just not so in love with those old white guy writings of Hemingway or whatever macho icon you might associate with such a writing persona. 

It just doesn’t seem to interest me but Plath and I? We get along just fine and have more than just a few things in common, as opposed to just having that gender dynamic in common.  

So what happens when you get older? You care less about who judges you. You get tired of defending yourself to others, and sometimes all that’s left to do, is to just let your work speak for yourself. 

Black Girls Don’t Read Sylvia Plath

A sonnet from Sylvia Plath’s Smith College days: originally published in BlackBird Literary Magazine circa 2006.

Ennui-which means boredom and or to be disinterested.

Wikipedia defined: Petrarchan sonnet

The Petrarchan sonnet was not developed by Petrarch himself, but rather by a string of Renaissance poets.[1] Because of the structure of Italian, the rhyme scheme of the Petrarchan sonnet is more easily fulfilled in that language than in English. The original Italian sonnet form divides the poem’s 14 lines into two parts, the first part being an octave and the second being a sestet.

Example of a Petrarchan sonnet: William Wordsworth’s “London, 1802”

The rhyme scheme for the octave is typically a b b a a b b a. The sestet is more flexible. Petrarch typically used c d e c d e or c d c d c d for the sestet. Some other possibilities for the sestet include c d d c d d, c d d e c e, or c d d c c d (as in Wordsworth’s “Nuns Fret Not at Their Convents Narrow Room” poem). This form was used in the earliest English sonnets by Wyatt and others. For background on the pre-English sonnet, see Robert Canary’s web page, The Continental Origins of the Sonnet.[2] In a strict Petrarchan sonnet, the sestet does not end with a couplet (since this would tend to divide the sestet into a quartet and a couplet). However, in Italian sonnets in English, this rule is not always observed, and c d d c e e and c d c d e e are also used.

The octave and sestet have special functions in a Petrarchan sonnet. The octave’s purpose is to introduce a problem, express a desire, reflect on reality, or otherwise present a situation that causes doubt or a conflict within the speaker’s soul and inside an animal and object in the story . It usually does this by introducing the problem within its first quatrain (unified four-line section) and developing it in the second. The beginning of the sestet is known as the volta, and it introduces a pronounced change in tone in the sonnet; the change in rhyme scheme marks the turn. The sestet’s purpose as a whole is to make a comment on the problem or to apply a solution to it. The pair are separate but usually used to reinforce a unified argument – they are often compared to two strands of thought organically converging into one argument, rather than a mechanical deduction. Moreover, Petrarch’s own sonnets almost never had a rhyming couplet at the end as this would suggest logical deduction instead of the intended rational correlation of the form.[3]

Poets adopting the Petrarchan sonnet form often adapt the form to their own ends to create various effects. These poets do not necessarily restrict themselves to the strict metrical or rhyme schemes of the traditional Petrarchan form; some use iambic hexameter, while others do not observe the octave-sestet division created by the traditional rhyme scheme. Whatever the changes made by poets exercising artistic license, no “proper” Italian sonnet has more than five different rhymes in it.

Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey are both known for their translations of Petrarch’s sonnets from Italian into English. While Howard tended to use the English sonnet form in his own work, reserving the Petrarchan form for his translations of Petrarch, Wyatt made extensive use of the Italian sonnet form in the poems of his that were not translation and adaptation work. As a result, he is often credited for integrating the Petrarchan sonnet into English vernacular tradition.[3]

The form also gave rise to an ‘anti-Petrarchan’ convention which may have revealed the mistress to be ugly and unworthy. The convention was also mocked, or adopted for alternative persuasive means by many of the Inn’s of Court writers during the Renaissance.


The sonnet is split in two groups: the “octave” (of 8 lines) and the “sestet” (of 6 lines), for a total of 14 lines.

The octave (the first 8 lines) typically introduces the theme or problem using a rhyme scheme of abba abba. The sestet (the last 6 lines) provides resolution for the poem and rhymes variously, but usually follows the schemes of cdecde or cdccdc.

Example of a Petrarchan sonnet: William Wordsworth’s “London, 1802”
Octave – introduces the theme or problem

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour: – A
England hath need of thee: she is a fen – B
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen, – B
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower, – A
Have forfeited their ancient English dower – A
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men; – B
Oh! raise us up, return to us again; – B
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power. – A
Sestet – solves the problem

Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart; – C
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea: – D
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free, – D
So didst thou travel on life’s common way , – E
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart – C
The lowliest duties on herself did lay. – D

Earlier this summer, I went on a small trip back to Boston for a number of reasons like: business (of writing), the pleasure of unexpected life, and or-the obviousness of death. 

It was all of a sudden, during my little trip when everything went sideways. From sideways, to right side up, and then into a sort of epistemological pilgrimage/journey regarding Sylvia Plath’s personal history and childhood home. And so when I visited her house, I of course I had to visit Otto Plath-i.e. her father’s grave. 

Was it really such an odd thing to investigate? I then wondered, was it a mere coincidence and or was it synchronicity that I was staying in her hometown at a friends house? Either way, it was enlightening and even helpful regarding my own thesis writing, my life’s work related to poetry, memoir, the world, and much, much more…

I soon realized there was no such thing as an obvious/easy answer to what we (or I) often searched for i.e purpose and or simple wonder.

It then, during my deeper gaze into her life, that I saw it. It helped me see some of my own mysteries. And then-poof! I become more self illuminated. I had a shiny, even newer ray of light that spotted me by the water, and then by an old tree that Otto himself had planted. I think it was from a lighthouse that only I could see. It was all followed by a heavy sadness.

As odd as it sounded-it was illumination beyond the everyday. Beyond the things we try to shut out of our minds and or hearts, i.e. The End.

In The End: We’re all just plots in the ground or ashes that blow away in the wind. And yes, regardless of this looming future truth, I still think it’s still something I (and or we) all should explore and or at least try to understand.

Can I (or we) take off the blinders long enough to try and figure it all out-on our own terms? Is that still possible?

How does any of this relate to my own poetry/memoir/life/thesis etc? Am I making sense-or am I just another mentally ill person that says way too much than he should (online anyways)? 

(insert long sigh here…)

In closing, I kind of felt like that unreal yet real secret to writing poetry came to life for me. What secret you ask? I think it was Mary Ruefle who said that every great poem has a great secret in it. And maybe I’ll add to that in saying that (for me anyways) writing poetry is at least 87.5% contemplation and or meditation on: whatever it is that ails, haunts and or drives you. And then maybe the rest of it-is one’s own father issues. 

I never asked for any of this, I mean who does? I never asked for any great enlightenment, nor the sad mood swings, nor the wonderful and or heartbreaking thoughts to all exist in the same space in me, but they do. If you are still reading this you now know I am the king of over-sharing my own personal demons/issues/sadness/happiness.

But hey, maybe it all exists in you too, or maybe it’ll all come out if you let it. That’s all we have right? Trying or should I say: Doing. 

Create as much as you can while you can-if you can.

I hope you all are having a great summer.


My new ink, is a tribute to my dear departed night owl of dog, Mr. Button. It also has a line from one of my favorite poet Sylvia Path’s poem entitled “Edge”.


The woman is perfected.
Her dead
Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity
Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare
Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.
Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little
Pitcher of milk, now empty.
She has folded
Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden
Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.
The moon has nothing to be sad about,  *
Staring from her hood of bone.
She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.


Some people say the moon symbolizes death, some say it means something else entirely. I’d rather not say what it means to me as whole, but I will say it is something very deep and hard to explain. And let’s be honest, the best poems are very hard to explain but easy to love.  My ink was done by a very talented artist who has been featured a number of times on that show LA INK. And he’s not a good artist just because he was on TV, but he is great regardless-Craig from American Electric Ink in Silverlake. Celebrity does not make good art but good art makes for celebrity, if that makes any sense at all.